When the National Review celebrates its 20th anniversary this November, conservatives may salute its editor with the toast: “You’ve come a long way, Buckley.” Among the associate editors, consultants, and contributors another toast might be made, this time raised, perhaps after the third glass of champagne, as a nostalgic question: “Where were you in ’32?” Buckley’s comrades have also come a long way.
It is remarkable how many of the National Review writers are “twice-born” ideologues, conservative minds haunted by radical memories. At one time or another Buckley’s stable of editors and contributors included former members of the Communist party (Frank Meyer and William Schlamm), crypto-Communists and notorious socialists (Whittaker Chambers and J. B. Matthews), banished Lovestoneites and half-way Shachtmanites (Will Herberg and James Burnham), early supporters of the Soviet Union (William H. Chamberlin and Eugene Lyons), radical novelists and Marxist literary theoreticians (John Dos Passos and Eliseo Vivas), fellow-travelers and Greenwich Village Leninists (Freda Utley and Max Eastman), Trotsky sympathizers (Suzanne LaFollette and Morrie Ryskind), little-known radical partisans (Frank Chodorov and Ralph de Toledano), and well-known radical critics of native American progressivism (John Chamberlain and Henry L. Hazlitt). Obviously, the experience of Stalinism pressed like a tumor on the brain of a whole generation of writers who came of political age between 1917 and 1939. Over a quarter-century ago Ignazio Silone prophesied accurately the intellectual consequences of Stalinism in Crossman’s collection The God That Failed: “The final struggle will be between the Communist and the ex-Communist.”...
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